Discarded Level Designs

Hi Everyone!

What is this?? Another post so soon?? – That’s right, indeed it is!

So… as I promised in the last post, I’d spend this post talking about all the discarded levels I’ve had for my indie game. Unbeknownst to everyone, would you believe it if I told you there were many different ‘Alpha’ level designs, let alone final product level designs? I felt it was important to nail the ‘vertical slice’ of gameplay that anyone would receive as the first taste to my game, the level had to exude the atmosphere, be a true representation of all expected mechanics and provide a strong first look at the storyline. The process started…

3 years ago; in a different engine, in a hard disk far far away… the first playable alpha level idea was a cliffside road. One that was very similar to the road seen in the movie adaptation of Silent Hill, perilously on the edge of a cliff that leads deep into the undergrowth on one side and a sheer mountainous face on the other. I’m sure some frequent visitors on here may remember my initial post describing such a level, but here they are again for you convenience 🙂

So, it’s not very impressive I know but I felt it captured the right outdoor atmosphere I was going for. The level was discarded as it was hard to make an introductory tutorial around this particular segment of the game and that the gameplay wouldn’t best represent a nice, meaty, vertical slice of the expected mechanics. Also, navigating through the level was extremely linear in feeling and honestly often felt very goofy walking through it all as the area is clearly meant for motor travel, not pedestrian. This scene will however appear in the final product, just not as a playable area but an introductory cut scene instead.

Next up on the list was a street level that would benefit from modular buildings design, thus allowing a simple town street to appear densely inhabited and lived in. Fortunately for me, after initial sketches (ones too poor to share ANYWHERE!) I dropped the idea before I began modelling anything as it would simply take far too much time to properly populate a street large enough to 1) contain meaningful gameplay, 2) give the appearance of an ongoing town in the distance and 3) generate enough logical & meaningful puzzles around the area to meet the target mark of 30 minutes worth of  gameplay.

Third on the list came the idea of a diner. An area you would naturally visit towards the opening of the final game, the diner seemed like a great area to introduce the player to the mechanics via an easy-to-breathe tutorial as I gently paced the player towards their first enemy encounter. Puzzles weren’t a problem this time as many of the ideas I had for them made logical, compelling sense to occur inside the diner… perhaps they were a TINY bit contrived like the classic Resident Evil’s mansion’s puzzles – where you’re constantly running around for a set of keys. But, the simple size of the level didn’t play ball this time but for the opposite reasons of the last; yes, like Goldilocks, I found the last level too large and this level too small… I’ll get to the ‘just right!’ in a minute…

Now, you might be saying to yourself: ‘Well damn Mike, just make the diner bigger!’ And you wouldn’t be wrong… but… it just didn’t make sense. For a diner in such a location would be typically small and cosy. Think of the Oh Deer Diner seen in Alan Wake. The town itself mimics the scale of that found in Alan Wake, or the famed Twin Peaks TV series. To build a diner so big just wouldn’t seem right in keeping with the feeling of the town, plus; this would mean a lot of repetition and visually; really wasn’t that impressive to behold as a first look at the game.

Ok Goldilocks… here’s the just right part:

So… speaking of Resident Evil, it’s no secret that the series is a core inspiration of mine for this game, so I thought about the idea of using a Police Station. I imagined it to be a more compelling adventure and slice of gameplay when you’ve got an interesting and complex interior of a building to explore. This would also make the game feel a lot less linear as the player would be encouraged to find their own way around the area whilst journeying towards the overall objective of ‘Get help, get out.’

I started with the idea of building the more interesting and less conventional areas of the station, the backdrops that the public wouldn’t typically see:


This included the core Investigations room where officers and detectives worked and showcased signs of desperation as the disaster broke out. Besides the investigations room, an armory was also made and for the time being has been put on the backburner and will likely see fruition only in the final product, rather than the first playable Alpha.


Onto the new bit: The police station idea has been kept, but the layout has been drastically changed to help encourage exploration of the level, and was easily navigable as the building is structured around an inwards facing U-shape. If you’d like to see a sneek peek of what that level looks like you can head on over to My Portfolio where I have all the photos for you to peruse through 🙂

A core change was the actual playable character. In all my previously discussed levels, the player would embody the older sister who would venture back to the town in search of her younger, missing sister: Alice. Chronologically, this would put the player in a time where weeks have passed and the damage and wear was exhaustive. To construct the alpha I would be happy with, I decided to let players embody Alice. To play as the younger sister who would go missing. I’ve stated my reasons for this before but I wanted the alpha to put the player at ‘Ground Zero’ to the incident, rather than weeks later. The core reasoning for this was to have the player connect and relate to Alice as you both experience the incident’s events unfold simultaneously, together; in her shoes.

Another thing that needed changing was a huge graphical upgrade. I was very displeased with the visual fidelity seen in the screenshot above and in my attempt to get as close as possible to modern-day AAA quality visuals, I realised that the static meshes themselves needed more polygons pumped into them, and that unfortunately for me; Quixel Suite just wasn’t working out for me unlike the Substance software. After taking a lot of reference from other games such as good ol’ Alan Wake, Ubisoft’s The Division and The Evil Within I managed to produce assets I now feel are demonstrative of near-AAA quality. See the upgrade below:


As you can see, I literally just needed more detail. I thought that as the game was from the 3rd person perspective, I didn’t think the emphasis would be on the detail, but when walking around the environment full of the low-fidelity assets; the visual quality matched more of the hack-STEAM greenlight games you see on the Steam Store than anything AAA and stood out to me like a thumb sore from having a nail hammered through it. I wouldn’t hear it from anyone who protested. The assets needed an upgrade!

So notice I didn’t talk heaps about the current playable alpha level, that’s because… that’s to all come later!! For now, I’m going to end this post here and hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about this all and once again, as always; thanks very much to any of you who have managed to read this far down! I’m always immensely appreciative of it all!

So, have I told you everything there is about all the levels? Did I mention the hotel and a cargo ship? Oh, I didn’t? Well… uh… gee, look at the time!


More soon!